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10 Horrifying Facts About The Catholic Sex Abuse Scandal

by Mark Oliver
fact checked by Jamie Frater

For decades, it was an open secret that thousands of Catholic priests across the globe had been caught molesting young children. Within the upper ranks of the Catholic Church, reports of sexual abuse had crossed every desk.

See Also: 10 Crazy Catholic Conspiracy Theories

The Church did their best to keep it from leaking to the press and to deal with the problem within the church. More often than not, though, their solution was little more than to pass child molesters onto a new parish, where they’d be surrounded by a whole new set of children to prey on or sentenced them to the “life of prayer and penance” the religion already demanded.

They couldn’t keep it quiet forever. It was inevitable that the truth of what was going on inside of some of the Catholic Church’s parish walls would explode out into the public.

But even now that the stories have come out, most people still have no idea just how horrifying the sex abuse scandal really was. This was more than just a case of a few bad apples. The details are staggering, and most still have no idea just how deep the cover-up really went.

10 7% of Catholic Priests In Australia Have Been Accused Of Sexual Abuse

Most of the stories we’ve heard from the Catholic Church’s sex abuse scandal come from the United States or Ireland, but the epidemic there was light compared to what was going on in Australia. In the land down under, sex abuse was more rampant than anywhere else on earth.

7% of all Australian Catholic priests have been accused of sexual abuse, typically by children who are 11-years-old or younger. In other words, if you found yourself in a room with fourteen Australian priests, chances are that one of them would be a child molester.

The numbers get even worse when you look at them in detail. Out of children who ever actually found themselves alone in a private session with a priest, 37% reported being sexually abused. And in the worst order, St. John of God, nearly half of the priests were accused of abuse.

Even these numbers, though, are just based on how many people were willing to come out and report the abuse. Most of the children targeted by the priests were young boys, a group that is statically very rarely willing to come out and speak about sexual abuse – and so there’s no telling how many people just haven’t told their stories.

For people behind the statistics, it was devastating. At least 40 victims in the city of Victoria alone ended up killing themselves over what they’d endured at the hands of men they’d trusted.[1]

9 Dutch Sex Abuse Victims Who Spoke Out Were Forcibly Castrated

In 1956, a young boy at the Harreveld Boarding School called the police. He’d been repeatedly raped by multiple monks at the school, he told them, lead by a Brother Superior named Gregorius.

Nothing came of it. The monks at the school simply apologized to the police and told them the boy was mentally ill. They would take care of it themselves, they assured them. Then they brought the young boy into a psychiatric ward and, as punishment for speaking out, violently castrated him.

It’s one of the most horrifying stories to come out of the scandal – but it didn’t just happen once. It’s believed that at least ten other boys went through the same thing. The others, though, didn’t get as far as calling the police. As soon as it slipped out that they might be thinking of talking, they were locked up and their genitals mutilated, an act the priests justified as “treatment for homosexuality”.

The whole church tried to cover the story up. When the Catholic Church wrote their report on sex abuse, they conveniently left Harreveld out. And the Dutch Prime Minister Victor Marijen even tried to get a royal pardon for the monks who’d raped and castrated the boys in their care.[2]

8A Known Child Molester Was Appointed To The Sexual Abuse Advisory Board

In 1996, Rev. Martin O’Loghlen openly admitted to sexually abusing a teenage girl. And in the very same year, he was appointed to the Church’s sexual abuse advisory board.

O’Loghlen, as he openly admitted, had repeatedly committed statutory rape on a teenage girl. He was a Vice Principal at the Catholic high school at the time, and he sexually preyed on young girls for his entire time in a position of power.

The girl didn’t report what had happened until 1996. When she did, O’Loghlen didn’t deny a single word. His only justification was that he was a “sex addict” and that he’d changed. There’s little to think that he did, though. The girl didn’t report it out of the blue. She reported him because 30 years after sexually assaulting her, he had tracked down her new address and started harassing her all over again.

Even after O’Loghlen admitted to statutory rape, the church still left him on the sexual advisory board. He enjoys “highly esteem” among the clergy, the man responsible for investigating him wrote. They let him off the hook and put him on the board – and he stayed on it for more than 10 years.[3]

7 Orphans In Quebec Were Falsely Labelled Mentally Ill And Left With Sex Abusers

Between 1949 and 1956, 20,000 illegitimate children of unmarried women in Quebec were sent into the care of the church. But instead of being raised like sons and daughters of God, they were put through unimaginable abuse.

At the time, abortion and contraceptives were illegal. If a woman got pregnant, there was little she could legally do about it, and, in the culture, the stigma of unwed motherhood was harsh. The church would try to coerce them into leaving their children in their orphanages, promising to take good care of them.

Instead, though, the children were so horribly mistreated that most didn’t even start speaking until they were 6-years-old. They were repeatedly reminded that they were “children of sin”. If they cried, they were beaten.

When the Church realized that they could double their federal funding by running a psychiatric hospital, they falsely labeled thousands of the children as mentally deficient. These children were pulled out of school and put into forced labor camps.

Rape was horrendously frequently. One survivor, who says he was raped two or three times a week, says he grew up thinking “it was normal to have sex between men”.

It took until 2006 before the Church apologized for what they’d done. Their atonement was to give the survivors about $15,000 each – and, in exchange, to force them to sign a contract promising never to press charges.[4]

6 The Church Ignored Complaints About A Priest Who Raped 200 Children For 50 Years

At a school for the deaf in Wisconsin, Rev. Lawrence C. Murphy made a habit of calling his pupils into his office around the time when they turned 14-years-old. God had commanded him to teach them about sex, he would tell them. But God forbade them from telling anyone about it.

Between 1950 and 1974, it’s believed that Rev. Murphy molested approximately 200 young boys, usually using that story. Despite what he told them, though, the kids didn’t keep it quiet. They told everyone they could what was happening – and not a soul listened.

One of the boys said he told three archbishops but was told to just forget about what Rev. Murphy had done to him and let it drop. In turn, he contacted two police departments and the district attorney, and still nothing happened.

Even the future Pope Benedict XVI himself was told about what was happening. In 1996, while he was still a Cardinal, the future Pope was sent reports about Rev. Murphy’s abuse, but never did anything about it. Murphy died two years later in 1998, still a priest, without ever suffering a single consequence for sexually assaulting 200 children.

“That man should have been in prison for a very long time,” one of his victims said after he died. “He got away with it.”[5]

5 An Archbishop Claimed He “Didn’t Know” It Was Illegal To Have Sex With Children

When his Archdiocese was put on trial for the sex abuse in 1984, Archbishop Robert J. Carlson was asked if he understood that having sex with a child was illegal. Carlson replied, “I’m not sure whether I knew it was a crime or not.”

Carlson wasn’t actually that ignorant – he just wasn’t too caught up on the “thou shalt not give false testimony” part of the Bible. He’d written multiple memos that not only made it clear that he knew his priests were sexually assaulting children, but also made it clear that he was actively using the law to cover it up.

When one child’s parents complained about their child being abused by Carlson’s priests, he sent out a memo reminding the other bishops that the statute of limitations would expire in two years. If they could just keep them from talking to police for a little bit longer, the parents wouldn’t be able to press charges.

Carlson also told the court that he had no regrets about how he’d handled it. “I think in everything we do, once we’ve experienced it, we reflect on our actions and we ask what we can do better,” he told them. “I think we did a pretty good job.”[6]

4 The Cover-Up Has Been Going On Since At Least The 1940s

The first hints of what was going on didn’t really hit the media until the 1980s and 1990s, but within the church, people have been talking about it since the 1940s.

That was when the American Rev. Gerald Fitzgerald set up the Congregation of the Servants of the Paraclete, a religious order to treat monks who were struggling with sin (specifically alcoholism). Shortly after opening his congregation, Fitzgerald sent a letter to the Pope complaining about the massive number of child molesters being sent his way.

Nothing was being done to punish them, Rev. Fitzgerald complained. Instead, they were allowed to make a quick, fake repentance, and then were put back in – as he put it – “a position where they can continue their wonted activity.” That letter was sent in 1957, but it’s widely believed he’d been struggling with the problem for more than a decade already. The reverend did not hold back in the forcefulness of his recommendations. In the letter he further said: “These men Your Excellency are devils and the wrath of God is upon them and if I were a bishop I would tremble when I failed to report them to Rome for involuntary laicization [(defrocking)].”

In Ireland, the problem may have been well-known even before then. Way back in the 1930s, they set up the “Christian Brothers” and “Sisters of Mercy” – workhouses where sexual abuse was “endemic”, according to one report.

“They were routinely sexually abused,” the report said, as well as physically beaten. Children there were beaten while hung from hooks, set upon by dogs, forced to eat their own vomit, and far more – and word never slipped through to the public until 50 years after it had started.[7]

3 The Church Has Kept Secret Books On Their Cover-Ups Since The 18th Century

The church has kept secret records on their scandals for far longer, though. Since at least the 18th century, they’ve kept a secret set of books called the Canon 489 Files: an archive of murder, scandal, and abuse, meant to be kept from prying eyes.

Around the 1970s, the pages of the Canon 489 books became filled with stories about priests sexually abusing children and with clear records of a deliberate cover-up. There are written confessions from priests openly admitting to raping children, paired with letters from church officials telling them to destroy all evidence.

Some records were kept in the books, though, because the Catholic Church never thought they’d have to show it to the world. They were confident that they’d win the legal right to keep their books secret.

When a lawsuit forced them to reveal the information to the world, the Church complied – but there’s no telling what they managed to tear out before the world looked at their pages. One bishop was caught calling for a meeting to discuss how to keep their dirtiest secrets from being exposed to the word.

“If there’s something there you really don’t want people to see you might send it off to the Apostolic Delegate,” he suggested. “They have immunity to protect something that is potentially dangerous.”[8]

2Pope John Paul II Personally Promoted A Cardinal Who Was Caught Covering It Up

On December 13, 2002, Cardinal Bernard Law resigned from his position as Archbishop of Boston. An expose in the news had revealed that he had personally helped cover up the sexual abuse in his archdiocese, even protecting a man who had personally molested 130 children.

That man was John Geoghan, a priest who repeatedly raped and assaulted children over a three-decade spree. The boys he targeted were young – one was only four-years-old.

Cardinal Law was fully aware of what Geoghan was doing. There are records showing he was getting reports about Geoghan’s abuse by at least 1984. He signed letters complaining about Geoghan’s “history of homosexual involvement with young boys”, and yet, for almost 15 years, kept him in parishes where he’d be surrounded by young children.

Geoghan didn’t get in trouble until the parents of his victims took their complaints to the media and the courts – and, when it became clear that Law that been involved in the cover-up, he resigned.

But the Church, it seems, didn’t have much of a problem with one of the Cardinals protecting rapists. Less than two years after the scandal broke, Pope John Paul II himself made Cardinal Law the Archpriest of the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, an important basilica in Rome. The new position made him one of the most powerful men in the church, with no superiors other than the Pope himself.[9]

1 In 2016, The Church Once Again Ordered Bishops Not To Report Sex Abuse

At this point, it’s probably no surprise that the Church was trying to keep these stories from reaching the press. In the 1990s, the Church specifically sent letters to their Bishops telling them that they were to keep all reports of sexual abuse within the church courts and outside of the public ones, with the letter they sent specifying that it “must be meticulously followed”.

What’s deeply troubling, though, is how little has changed, even now that the stories have come to light. As recently as in 2016, the Church was caught sending another letter to their bishops, telling them: “It is not necessarily the duty of the bishop to report suspects to authorities, the police or state prosecutors.”

The letter was talking about sexual abuse from priests. It was full of a horrifying refusal to take responsibility. It wrote the Church’s sex abuse scandals off by saying that most sexual assaults are still committed by families and friends, only acknowledging that “the church has been particularly affected by sexual crimes” – as if the real victim in all of this has been the Church’s reputation.

The Catholic Church backpedaled and apologized when the letter made it out into the media. Still, it’s a deeply troubling glimpse into what still happened behind closed doors, when there are no cameras or reporters on hand to expose what’s happening to the world.[10]

fact checked by Jamie Frater
Mark Oliver

Mark Oliver is a regular contributor to Listverse. His writing also appears on a number of other sites, including The Onion's StarWipe and His website is regularly updated with everything he writes.

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